Living in Society

Don’t Tell Us What to Read

Morning Reading for $1.25

I got my first library card in 1959 and have been reading ever since. When I was young, teachers kept an eye on my reading and made their opinions known. If they didn’t like a particular book, I read it at home where my parents supervised me.

My first conflict was in eighth grade over a book written by Ian Fleming, one of the 007 series. The priest saw I had it and confiscated it because of Bond’s interaction with women. I discussed it with my parents and eventually bought another copy from my allowance.

In high school I heard about J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye and wanted to read it. It was prohibited and unavailable in the school library. I read that one too. I managed the conflicts between teachers and my reading.

What I can’t abide is the state legislature regulating which books should be allowed in schools. This decision should be between teachers, librarians, and parents. The claim parents don’t know what books are in schools seems bogus. If the legislature wants to do something, fund on-line access to card catalogues throughout the state. We don’t need lawmakers telling us what to read.

~ First published on Jan. 22, 2022 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Living in Society

Miller-Meeks Didn’t Support the Military

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks should be consistent about where she stands on support for the military. On Jan. 12, she voted against expanding eligibility for educational benefits to our National Guard and Army Reserves in the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021.

In June, Miller-Meeks said, “I can think of no better way to help those transitioning from our military than by giving them access to the benefits they have earned.” She gushed on her congressional website how she voted in favor of four bills to help our military members.

Which is it congresswoman? Are you for or against supporting the military with improved benefits?

I’m weary of hearing her military resume because while she used the GI bill for her own education, leveling the playing field between National Guard/Reservists and active-duty personnel is something she can’t abide.

I may have missed some fine print right wing politicians find objectionable, yet the big picture is Miller-Meeks voted against a bill to help men and women in uniform.

Our military personnel deserve our thanks on behalf of a grateful nation. But no, Miller-Meeks couldn’t provide it.

~ First published in The Daily Iowan and also in other local newspapers

Living in Society

Funding Public Schools

Officer Writing a Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Photo Credit – Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Government should be in the business of funding public schools so that every child has access to a world class education. In her condition of the state address, Governor Kim Reynolds explained how much money state government was contributing to public schools. Everything was fine until school choice came up.

“But for some families, the school district doesn’t fit their values or meet the needs of their child,” Reynolds said, pivoting to school choice.

If parents want or need school choice, they should be able to find an alternative. At the same time, it is not government’s job to fund every parent’s dream education for their child. That’s where Republicans and I differ.

In the 1960s, compulsory school standards caused a problem in Oelwein. The school superintendent required Amish children to attend public school and they refused. Democratic Governor Harold Hughes intervened to request a moratorium on compulsory education for the Amish and defused the situation. In 1967 the legislature passed a law exempting the Amish from compulsory education and school standards based on their religious affiliation.

What is going on today is nothing like that. Public schools struggle with inadequate funding and we are talking about more money for private schools?

My member of congress, Mariannette Miller-Meeks is in sync with the governor and has adopted a D.C.-based approach to school choice.

In an editorial in the Independent Advocate, Miller-Meeks wrote, “Not every school is right for every student; thus, it is imperative that we give families the choice to send their child to the school that works best for them.”

Miller-Meeks introduced The Choice Act in the U.S. House. The Choice Act “would allow parents to be in control of their children’s education by expanding school choice programs and by creating greater awareness of different types of programs,” she wrote. The Choice Act takes us the wrong direction.

What is the limit on school choice? How much should the federal government be involved paying for school choice?

Public schools exist for a reason, to make the best use of tax dollars to provide quality education for all children. School choice as Reynolds and Miller-Meeks frame it is counter productive to good public schools.

Living in Society

Congressional Survey Responses – January 2022

Portion of mailer from Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

My member of congress sent a couple of official mailings since she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. They are purported to be government business, yet any such outreach is obviously also political. These questions seem intended to frame political discussion going into the midterm election. I’m not going to reply in this format, yet I will submit my answers via message on the Miller-Meeks official website. Here are the questions and my answers.

What are your thoughts on the issues at our southern border?

Enable the Biden-Harris administration to manage border crossings along with the border state governors.

Should government be more involved in our health care system?

This is not a simple answer. Yes, regulation is needed, and as long a people can’t get access to care for any reason, there is not enough regulation and government support. At the same time, health care providers need to be able to make a living and I agree with the Obama administration in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that there is a role for for-profit health care providers and their employees. Since the federal government created all veterans, it continues to be needed to regulate and improve the care system for active military personnel, veterans, and their families. I fully support the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to manage the current global pandemic of the coronavirus.

Do you believe reducing federal regulations and red tape are more likely to 1. create jobs and improve our businesses, 2. allow corporations to harm employees and consumers or 3. other?

See previous question for my thoughts about government regulation of the health care industry. Since the government has been captured by undue influence from corporations that provide healthcare, and industry capture already harms employees and consumers, the best course of action is to reform campaign financing and reduce the ability for healthcare corporations to donate to members of congress and political action committees in order to influence governance.

How should Congress tackle our $29 trillion debt?

Of the suggested answers, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is first priority and overdue. The Trump tax cuts should be reversed as quickly and completely as possible as they drive a significant portion of the debt. In addition, the Congress needs to audit the military budget, which has seemed for some time to be out of control and enriched beyond the country’s national security needs. Why would the Congress approve a higher budget than the Biden-Harris administration requested? They shouldn’t. The Social Security Administration is self-funded and has a plan for when it begins to run out of money in 2034, namely, reducing benefits. Any debt reduction plan should include shoring up the protections for our seniors and disabled after 2034. We shouldn’t wait until then to start working on it.

Which issue should be Congress’ top priority right now?

If we don’t address the environment, the country we have now won’t exist. Mitigating both the causes and effects of the climate crisis should be the Congress’ top priority.

Should federal control and funding of education be reduced?

The states have proven incapable of providing racial equity in education, so there is a role for the federal government and funds are required. All federal funding of home schooling, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, and any school not defined as a public school should be phased out with a rapid off ramp for federal funding. This should be a discussion, not a mandate. The Choice Act takes us in the wrong direction.


Book Review: Peril

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Photo Credit – The Guardian

The effort to disrupt the Electoral College vote counting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 was appalling. It was made worse by the fact a sitting U.S. president, in order to overturn a legitimate election and cling desperately to power, organized, led and encouraged a mob. When events turned deadly, the president failed to call off the demonstrators in a timely manner. By any definition, what happened that day was insurrection.

Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa is the first draft of historical narrative of events leading to that day and its aftermath during the first months of the Biden-Harris administration. The authors interviewed more than 200 people for the book and it reads like history. It’s not that. It is more like an extended newspaper article. Discovery of new aspects of the events leading to Jan. 6 have been released almost daily. The pace of new information is expected to accelerate in 2022. This book is what we have now to provide an overview of what happened.

To the extent Peril recounts what happened, it is useful the way a newspaper article is useful. It left me wanting to know more. It is neither the best written political book, nor does it provide meaningful insights. Its narrative is believable yet incomplete.

The good news about Peril is that it took less than 48 hours to read. Combined with our first winter storm and in between snow removal, cooking, and indoor work, it made an engaging companion. There will be better books written about Jan. 6 once the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack finishes its work. For the time being, Peril can accompany us on the journey to determine what happened and what a voter can do to remedy the causes of this doleful day.

As an American the need for action is obvious. Reading Peril is an efficient way to get caught up after the end of year holidays. What comes next is an open question.

Living in Society

Start with the Schools

Big Grove Township School #1

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are best to start with the schools. That is, choke funding, limit collective bargaining with union employees, restrict local control during a pandemic, and control the curriculum, especially as it pertains to racial equity. If Republicans don’t do these things, as children become educated they will vote them out of office when they get their first chance.

Public education is the largest line item in the Iowa annual budget approved by the legislature. How the legislature and governor handle education determines to a large extent whether Iowa is a desirable place to live. Republicans would like to significantly reduce the influence of public schools and their budget priorities show it. Issues with the Republican plan for Iowa’s schools are obvious.

  • There are not enough substitute teachers to fill in for sick and quarantined employees.
  • The Davenport school district cancelled school this week because of a shortage of bus drivers. Other districts did too.
  • Parents of students with disabilities can’t find paraeducators.
  • The legislature plans additional state control over compliance with CDC guidelines regarding vaccines in schools: not just COVID-19 vaccines, but the science of immunization as well.
  • Discussion of centralized control of school curricula is not finished. Legislators want to mandate a peculiar history of the United States be taught and are willing to legislate what that is. Efforts to teach racial equity are expected to be hobbled.
  • The legislature encourages use of public funds for private schools.

This Republican malarkey is far from over. In a Jan. 2 Washington Post article, Laura Meckler wrote, “The GOP’s case (in the midterm elections) will center on displeasure over pandemic-driven restrictions, including school closures and mask mandates, as well as the racial equity work underway in thousands of districts. … What’s clear is that the pressure on schools on both fronts will intensify.”

In this context, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are seeking a way to eliminate state income tax. Flush with one-time money, Republicans are looking for ways to spend it. They have the individual income tax in the crosshairs.

“It’s appropriate to call it a moon shot because you’d have to live on the moon to think that it was a good idea,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told the Gazette. “It’s a political ploy, it’s a starting point, it’s a moon shot and it would have huge ramifications in the state one way or another for everyday Iowans. It is an extreme proposal to say the least.”

Education is the foundation of what makes living in Iowa a valued experience. Legislators should start with the schools, yet when we look at what Republicans have done, reasonable people scratch their heads and say, “Not like that.”

If readers have not done so, it is time to engage in what the legislature does in the second session of the 89th General Assembly beginning Jan. 10. It is also time to get to work to elect Democrats during the midterm elections. Republican control of our government has been a disaster. Just take a look at public schools.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Another Derecho

Sun shining through clouds the afternoon of the Dec. 15, 2021 derecho.

While Wednesday’s extreme weather manifested as a blustery thunderstorm in Big Grove, meteorologists have since categorized the multi-state storm as a derecho. It was nowhere as severe as the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. (Update: The National Weather Service said it confirmed 43 tornadoes on Dec. 15, 2021. On Jan. 7, 2022 the number was revised to 61).

The good news is with generator and fuel standing by, and gallon jugs of bottled drinking water stored downstairs, we are ready. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

I spent 30 minutes chatting with a registered Republican, small business owner, and FOX News watcher this week. Things went well. We had plenty in common. The challenge is turning points of commonality into votes for progressive ideas. When push comes to shove, abortion is the dominant wolf in the pack. It is a firewall against political persuasion because if raised, the chat stops right there. People who oppose a woman’s right to choose raise the issue early in political conversations.

I have no choice but to interact with Republicans. They are and have been a part of our community since we lived here. During election cycles when I’ve had access to the voter rolls, I looked for the Democrats and increasingly they are in a minority where I live. I’m not complaining, just saying.

On a Zoom meeting with Iowa gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear last night, I asked what we should be doing to organize between now and the June primary. The response, somewhat predictably, was we should sign up to work on her campaign. It was her event, so I’m okay with that. A challenge remains unaddressed, though.

Democrats have three U.S. Senate candidates, two for governor, an unknown Democrat for the First Congressional District, and no declared candidate for either my state senator or state representative. There is a lot of work ahead if we want to elect more Democrats.

There is a case to be made the party primary election should be eliminated in favor of selecting candidates at a convention. It sounds undemocratic yet we could pick our people soon after the February precinct caucus rather than wait until June. That would give us four additional organizing months. We need every one of those in the current environment.

Back in the ancient days when megafauna roamed Earth, during the run up to the 2020 Democratic precinct caucuses, Iowa’s system failed to produce a clear winner in the presidential race. Instead results were delayed, the winner barely won the delegate count, and a loser asked for a recanvass of selected precincts. It wasn’t much better in 2016 when Hillary Clinton bested Bernie Sanders by a few delegates. There is no perfect system yet we can do better than the Iowa caucuses.

What I do, talking to Republican neighbors, is part of the political process yet I don’t see how it dovetails into the broader, state-wide politics. Politicians should concentrate on counting votes, yet there are endless conversations in all settings going on every day. These local conversations matter more than the vote-counting of politicians. They are valid and useful if sometimes frustrating. Often people who are different in political views put their best foot forward to get along in society. That may be all we have together. Democrats have yet to define our values in a way that resonates outside our clan.

I’m glad to have survived my second derecho. Now if I can survive our politics. That would be the rainbow at the end of a storm.


Blog Year In Review – 2021

Looking at the moon rising in the east at sunset.

Eight of the top ten new posts on Journey Home were about the Solon School Board election. It demonstrates that when a blogger covers something in which people have interest, there will be views. I’m thankful for people who follow all of my writing.

To get a fairer picture of which blog posts garnered views, I include my work at Blog for Iowa. If I mix the two together, here are my top posts for 2021.

10. Book Review: Equity. Aug. 30, 2021, Journey Home. A book review of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives by Minal Bopaiah.

9. 2021 School Board Candidate Forum. Oct. 21, 2021, Journey Home. This post was coverage of the only school board candidate forum prior to the election. It includes a link to video of the forum.

8. Solon School Board Election. Sept. 19, 2021, Journey Home. My first post about the Solon School Board election.

7. Here Comes Carbon Capture Technology. Nov. 24, 2021, Blog for Iowa. One of a series of posts about Carbon Capture and Sequestration plans of Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures in Iowa.

6. The Climate Crisis is Accelerating – Now What? July 6, 2021, Blog for Iowa. Encouragement to act on the climate crisis. “While we need to do everything possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, the longest, most complicated journey begins with a single step.”

5. Solon School Board Election Update. Oct. 3, 2021, Journey Home. A newsy post with facts about the Solon School Board election.

4. Is Jessica Reznicek a Terrorist? July 15, 2021, Blog for Iowa. “Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.”

3. SSB Candidates Respond. Oct. 9, 2021, Journey Home. A verbatim reprinting of Solon School Board candidate responses to my questions via email.

2. Book Review: The Hidden History of American Oligarchy. Jan. 19, 2021, Blog for Iowa. “In The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, Thom Hartmann recounts three periods of increased hegemony of oligarchs in American society.”

1. A Nonpartisan School Board. Sept. 25, 2021, Journey Home. A look at the Solon School Board election through a partisan lens. Disclosure of party registration of the seven candidates.

Thanks for reading. Hope you will continue in 2022.


Miller-Meeks, COP26, and the Climate Crisis

Woman Writing Letter

Miller-Meeks attended COP26, but her record on climate isn’t promising

To address global carbon pollution everyone must get involved. Even Republicans understand this. In response to the climate crisis, and to political pressure, Republican Congressman John R. Curtis (UT-03) launched a “Conservative Climate Caucus” last June. My member of Congress, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks joined.

Solutions to the climate crisis will take government at all levels. In the United States, only the federal government has the reach to take effective national action which could impact the globe.

To my surprise, Miller-Meeks showed up at the 26th Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland, where she participated in a podcast with other caucus members extolling the positions of conservatives on climate.

“As a member of the Conservative Climate Caucus this issue is important to my colleagues and myself,” she wrote me in an email.

Well okay. Welcome aboard, I think.

Miller-Meeks’ votes against the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act, both of which address the climate crisis, indicate she is not really on board with federal climate action.

For a Republican to admit they have a problem is the first step toward recovery. Let’s hope Miller-Meeks can resist her addiction to D.C. talking points and do something positive to address carbon pollution.

~ Published in Little Village Magazine Dec. 6, 2021, Iowa City Press Citizen on Dec. 8, 2021, Cedar Rapids Gazette on Dec. 11, 2021.


Writing About Politics

Iowa City political event during the 2010 campaign. Note U.S. flag incorrectly displayed. We fixed it before the event began.

Voting and politics have been part of my life since the earliest days. I remember discussing Dwight Eisenhower with my parents. He was a Republican and we didn’t like him for that. When he started building the Interstate Highway System, it had a direct impact on our lives. We revised our position to say he wasn’t so bad and looked forward to cutting down the time it took to drive to my aunt and uncle’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Harry Truman was president when I was born. I have no memory of him in that role. I recall seeing news footage of Truman taking a walk from his retirement home in Independence, Missouri. Mostly, I reference his memoirs to see what he had to say about decisions he made as president. I’ve read the passage about his decision to drop the atomic bomb several times.

Father campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He had mimeographed canvass sheets he got at the union hall and diligently filled in the names of everyone on our block and how they would vote. When he finished our block, he worked on nearby ones. Kennedy lost Iowa to Richard Nixon and, as we know, won the general election.

The 1964 election of Lyndon B. Johnson framed the way I thought Democrats should govern. LBJ had a big majority in the legislature and was able to pass legislation. In his book The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 he listed them inside the front cover. It’s a long list. If his political legacy is tainted by the war in Vietnam, it is dominated by many policies and legislation that changed the United States for the better. I was shocked when Hubert Humphrey failed to win the 1968 election as I felt he was cut in the LBJ mold and would be a great successor. Nixon beat Humphrey 301-191 in the Electoral College. It wasn’t even close.

I have nothing good to say about the Nixon years. 1972 was the first year I was eligible to vote and I don’t recall if I did vote for George McGovern. I remember some confusion about whether I could vote in Iowa City, where I attended university, or whether I had to vote at home. I recently wrote about the 1972 election and McGovern here. Nixon was a liar and it was with a sigh of relief I welcomed his resignation in 1974. I didn’t care who was president. Gerald Ford? Fine.

I didn’t vote in the 1976 election as I was engaged in military training. We were rid of Nixon, so I didn’t much care who was elected. My thinking was “America, figure it out.” From my perch in Mainz, West Germany I thought Carter was doing an okay job. I felt he was unjustly criticized for lack of support for the military when I saw the results of his policy and spending not far from my caserne. During a major field exercise in which I participated, our commanding officer would travel back to the states each week to provide an update to the White House. I saw some of the ideas we discussed in a tent in Germany turned into policy in Washington. It was a heady feeling.

Reagan was the beginning of the decline of America’s greatness with its focus on reducing the power of the central government, favoring the rich. Maybe we were just receiving a comeuppance after the LBJ years. The Reagan administration began overturning reforms of the New Deal, something that would persist with every subsequent Republican president. Each played a role in dismantling the social fabric we had come to depend upon. The years since then left us with with hyper-partisanship and a flow of wealth to a small percentage of people.

My early years, through exiting the military in 1979, were formative. It would be difficult to write about the politics as a separate topic in an autobiography. The challenge is to incorporate these stories in the flow of the book without having them dominate. Figuring this out is where I am this Monday morning.